the power of Maybe

I’m not a fan of closed doors. Which is kind of odd coming from someone who’s as sincerely private and socially insular as I am. (Would rather cook something amazing and talk the night away than go out to a club or something, but that’s just me)

So let me restate that: I’m not a fan of doors being closed. Especially when they don’t need to be.

Which is where Maybe comes in.

Having neither the explicit promise of a Yes nor the full-stop end of story of a No, Maybe is the sweet spot where conversation is allowed to flow. Where things are still possible. Where minds are still somewhat open and curious. Where everyone is coming to the table with a desire to learn.

Maybe is still hopeful and excited and eager. But it might also be the turning of a corner. The first stage in the potential transition from Hope to Action. It’s a meeting of the minds to see if there’s work that can be done and if it can be done together.

More specifically, it’s that space where a writer has the rare opportunity to help someone see their characters and their stories as they see them. As they created them. It’s taking someone by the hand and, armed with that Maybe, letting them peek into the shadows to see the Why to the What you’ve written. To get a long look at how those people you created came to be. What’s driving them? What are their wounds and how are they struggling? And what makes them happy? What brings them joy? What are their hopes? Why do they do what they do?

It’s showing someone what can still be done and how amazing it can be if you can do it together.

You don’t learn any of this with No.

Maybe is questions asked and answers given. It’s discovery. Epiphany. It’s agreement and disagreement and compromise. It’s finding common ground and the realization that you are, despite the lingering threat of No, at least on the same page. More so than you first thought. Maybe is a continuing conversation where you learn about the story and you learn about each other.

At its core, Maybe is Information.

You see why it’s so powerful?

In some ways, at least at first, Maybe is preferable to Yes. Especially a Yes given quickly and without either thought or the support of shared understanding and common goals. Those are difficult. Because you got the Yes — YAY!!!! FINALLY!!!! — only to learn that where you see a unique, emotionally resonant story revolving around a fascinating immortal man, they see a 3-D roller-skating rock opera about juggling mimes working in a Milwaukie Hooters. And suddenly that initial ecstatic Oh Boy becomes the heartbreaking punch in the gut ohhhhhhh boy.

The back-and-forth of Maybe would have caught that potential pickle and, if compromise couldn’t be reached, it would have become a mutual No. And, let me tell you, that No is easy. Really easy. Because it rests on a foundation of shared conversation and clear information. That No is much, much better than an overeager — though well-intentioned — Yes.

Now, about that closed door. I said I’d circle back and I am.

Listen, No and I are best buds. Hell, we dang near grew up together. And, hand to god, I have nothing against No. Seriously. I know No like no one else. He is an annoyingly faithful and frustratingly constant companion. My disastrous wing man, if you will.

But I can accept No. And I have. Many times. Still do. If X and I aren’t seeing eye-to-eye or Y’s schedule is truly packed for the next five years or the story just isn’t resonating for A, yeah, I get that and I respect that. That No makes sense. It’s a No based on information and questions and answers and thought and discussion. And that’s cool. No harm, no foul, I sincerely wish you the best of luck and, really, let’s find something to do in the future because I still believe you are way too many kinds of awesome to count.

At the end of the day, some things aren’t meant to be.

But I always wonder, when my Hello was met with an abrupt No, what would have happened if they’d paused and listened? Just for a moment. And really listened, not sat there watching my lips move while wondering what to do for lunch (Chinese Chicken Salad? In’n’Out?…Pie?) all while planning on saying No at the end regardless.

What would have happened if they’d allowed themselves the freedom of Maybe? That free-for-all play space where people walk together without the specter of Yes or No hanging over them. Where it’s still Talk to Me. Tell Me Your Story. Where it’s help me see this the way you see this.

What would’ve happened if they’d asked questions? If they’d opened themselves enough to allow that unfamiliar light in? Let their imagination spark with unexpected possibility? Granted their creativity the permission to play What If?

Saying No as a first and only response precludes all of that. It halts conversation. Kills opportunity. It may even accidentally refuse you the thing you say you want and insist you need. No is coming to a dead stop on the on-ramp to the freeway that might — MIGHT — take you where you’ve been trying to go for a bazillion years.

Where Maybe is powerful, No can be downright deadly.

Point is never, ever underestimate Maybe. It’s not a Yes, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s an open door. An invitation to tell your story as you see it. To share the secrets behind what you do. Give them a glimpse of who you are and why what you do is so important to you.

So when someone says Ughhhhh, I just got a maybe and it suuuuux, I’m, like, Listen, accept that Maybe as the gift it is and take appropriate advantage. With gratitude and respect. They’re rare, those Maybes. Brief, brilliant moments of opportunity to shine and connect and share. Those Maybes have the potential to be amazing. They can change your life!

Don’t waste ’em.

 

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Facebook Bestsellers and the Death of Writing

Writing is dying a very slow, painful death at the hands of self-publishing.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

Self-publishing alone isn’t killing Great Writing, though it has set the bar increasingly low.  Facebook Bestsellers are what’s killing Great Writing.

Let me explain:

A Facebook Bestseller is a book that ends up on the Amazon Top 20 list, or something, due entirely to the Clicks of thousands of FB “Friends”.  Usually they’re derivative, repetitive, absolutely painful, damn near unbearable, poorly written pieces of crap.  If you can make it through the Free Sample without screaming out loud or falling into fits of laughter, I applaud  your strong constitution.  I can’t.  I’ve tried.

And you can spot a Facebook Bestseller pretty easily.  Take a look at a handful of those couple hundred five star reviews.  Do they read something like “OMG, this was SOOOO good!”, “Loved this SOOOO much”, or “YES! Another winner”?  If so, then it was probably written by someone who A) hasn’t read the book, but B) wants to show their support for their FB “Friend”.

Now, go ahead and take a look at those few, very brave One Star reviews.  You know, the ones written by “Friends” who are probably “Friends” no more?  That’s where you’ll find the real story.

Yet, still, there it sits at the top of the Amazon Bestseller List.

Because of the best of intentions of “Friends”, we now find ourselves faced with the stomach-churning reality of truly Great Writing by Writers with long, celebrated careers they’ve earned through hard work and talent, writers who actually know what they’re doing, sandwiched between Wannabes whose painful, amateurish prose wouldn’t make it out of an 8th Grade Creative Writing course.

This is the danger with Facebook and all those click-happy “Friends”.  Those who write Facebook Bestsellers, wrapped in the breathless, unquestioning support of FB, believe they’re really good.  They ignore the One Star reviews because, you know, they’re not nice, and continue on, having no clue how bad they really are and how deeply damaging their celebrated mediocrity is.

Readers who may be Writers someday are growing up believing Bad is somehow Good.  These Readers, surrounded by nothing but bad, will soon have no memory of what Truly Great Writing is, having to search before the Time of these Facebook Bestsellers for Good Writing.

You see, a Writer is more than someone who puts words on a page.  A Writer  listens to the words, hearing and honoring their rhythm.  A Writer knows that if there’s one word too many, or one word not enough, the structure will fall.  And that structure is everything.  That’s what cushions the Reader in this fictional world.  A Writer can recognize the balance in a sentence and know when it’s off, feeling, in his or her bones, that it’s not right and what to do to fix it.

A Writer would never be satisfied with what ends up in these Facebook Bestsellers.  He’d immediately see how amateurish and clumsy it is.  He’d FEEL it was wrong as he’s writing it.  He would not rest until it was edited and put right.  It would haunt him.  In fact, it wouldn’t even make it past his fingers TO the keyboard.

I believe a Writer, a True Writer, could never bring themselves to leave their worst masquerading as their best on the page and click Publish.

Yet these Wannabes do it all the time, without apology, without regret, and often to great applause.

I’ve often railed against Traditional Publishing and how, because of their penchant for guarding the Gates a bit too vigorously, a revolution like self-publishing was needed.  But at least, for the most part, we were spared moronic drivel ending up on the bookshelf, let alone the Bestseller List.

But now even that’s changing with Traditional Publishing abandoning all pretense of being an arbiter of taste and strong writing, and following the money to sign Facebook Bestsellers to contracts.  And, once again, the delusion that they’re “good writers” is perpetuated, their oafish efforts being celebrated and rewarded.

But a Publisher following the money is not supporting the writer.  A Publisher biting their tongue, smiling, and eagerly hoping to cash in on the last breath of the author’s FB Bestseller status — these “Friends” tend to tire within a year or two and move on to newer, equally abysmal voices, so it’s best to move quick if you’re a Publisher –doesn’t give a shit about the writer.  They’re read the words, they’ve winced and groaned and shook their heads.  They know this writer doesn’t have the chops to reach beyond their Facebook circle.  And they know, once the writer’s new books hit a wider audience, that’s when the chickens come to roost.  That’s when the One Stars outweigh the Five Stars and those “Friends” start second guessing that all important Click.

A Publisher signing a FB Bestseller is hoping to eke out a book or two before the jig is up, the lie is unmasked, the numbers drop, and people move on.

So, what can we do about this?  STOP FOLLOWING THE HERD!  If you’re one of those “Friends” who buys a book as a show of support to the Author, even when you know it’s not good work, STOP!  If you’re not sure about the quality, read the Sample.  If it feels off, read the lowest rated reviews to see if the issues you’re finding are issues they mention.  And, if they are, DON’T BUY THE BOOK!

It’s as simple as that.

Buying abysmal writing as a way of being “nice” doesn’t help anyone.  It doesn’t help the writer.  It doesn’t help the reader.  And it doesn’t help the industry produce and celebrate better, stronger work.

My hope is once we rid the publishing world of these Facebook Bestsellers, it’ll be easier to go back to once again celebrating the truly great writing of real Writers, not Wannabes who would be nothing without their Facebook Friends.

 

It’s not you, Sue

I’ve gotten some private flak for my recent post on Sue Grafton and the interview she gave.

You know, the one where she called those who self-publish too lazy to do the hard work?

Yeah, that one.

But, listen, this isn’t about Sue. I have no doubt those who know her and love her and read her find her to be simply lovely. And, frankly, anyone who can write a series with titles based on the letters of the alphabet (I’m assuming G is for Gimmick?) knows her way around a keyboard … and the alphabet.

In fact, this isn’t even about the dismissive, condescending tone she used to describe, well, me … and 99.9% of the self-pubbed authors out there.

In all honesty, this is about the death of traditional publishing.

Okay, maybe death is too strong a word. Let’s go with extreme reluctance to grab the lifesaver we self-pubbed authors are throwing them. But even that gives us too much credit.

How about we just say We’re showing Them that We can do what We do without Them.

And that terrifies Them. (thus ends my brief foray into capitalized pronouns)

A cursory wander ’round Google will bring up all kinds of hits from well-established blogs and writers who’ve discussed this issue at length. So, if this intrigues you — and, if you’re a writer, it damn well should –, there’s a lot out there to read.

I’ve decided to take this bull by the horns in a more personal way.

One person who wrote me about the earlier post said that if I were offered a contract from a traditional publisher, I’d take it!

But, hand to God, I don’t know if that’s true.

You see, as a newbie writer, a contract with a Publisher would basically put me where I already am. I’d still have a book to write, still have a book to market, still have a book to sell, still have other books to write. The only differences would be A) I’d be under contract and more than likely have to alter what I write — bye bye, awesome freedom –, and B) I would not be getting the sweet royalties I get now.

Oh, and there’s a C) in there, too: I’d be not-so-gently penalized (Hello, Bargain Bin) for sales that underperform expectations.

Ouch.

When publishers make budget cuts — and, believe me, the floors are awash in red over there these days — the first things to go are Executive Pay and Star Author Perks.

Just kidding.

Marketing and Editing hit the chopping block first.

So, as a new writer, you’ll get a line edit looking for typos and grammatical errors, but you’re not getting any structural edits. Gone are the days when a pair of Wise, Experienced Eyes would look over your opus, highball in one hand, cigarette in the other, and say in a sonorous voice, “Listen, kid, trim here, give me more of Character A, pep up Character D, ditch Character B ’cause he’s a boring asshole, and lose that bit with the blue hat ’cause it doesn’t make sense”.

Nope. Typos and misplaced commas. That’s what you get as far as Edits go.

And marketing? You’re on your own there, too.

Sure, they may throw a tiny bit of cash your way in the very beginning. But, and this is the kicker, if your book doesn’t show strong numbers right away based on the small ad they ran in some obscure publishing magazine, guess who gets bundled with two other low performers and tossed deep into the shadows of the $1 bin.

Nothing you can do about it.

Shoppers will continue to find themselves face-to-face with Bestselling Author A’s Big Tower’o’Books the minute they escape the revolving doors while you languish deep in a box in a warehouse or far, far, far in the back of a shelf no one can reach.

You signed the dotted line, you agreed to it, you are contractually trapped.

And you no longer call the shots.

Oh, did I mention the royalty payments? If you’re lucky enough to sell a physical book, you’ll see perhaps 12% of that. Or 15%. Or 20% tops. If you’re lucky.

When?

Payments are sent quarterly. Maybe. There are all kinds of accounting gimmicks they pull out of their hats to buff up their bottom line and sap the happy from your checks.

And ebooks? You’re looking at maybe getting 20% to 30% of that. Maybe not. Accounting gimmicks apply as does the quarterly schedule.

So, in the face of all this ridiculousness the Author has no control over, why would I or anyone else who self-pubs go with a Major?

Well, if you’re as unknown as I am right now, you wouldn’t. If you’re Amanda Hocking or that 50 Shades of Grey chick, money. Up front. A lot of it. You sign away the rights, agree to a new series or something, shock your bank account with more numbers than its ever seen, and, finally, take a deep breath and relax.

And then it begins.

Your books no longer priced at .99 or $1.99 or $2.99, you lose a chunk of your audience. The marketing angle the Major decides on is fairly Old School and completely misses the mark ’cause they have no idea who your readers are. You do, but they won’t listen to you because, well, you know, you’re just the Author. Oh, and the new covers kinda suck.

But it’s out of your hands.

So is the fact that your books are no longer selling at the numbers they had been when they were self-pubbed, usually because your readers balk at the new price point and it feels like the work is no longer speaking to them. Because it isn’t.

The marketing budget for you is reigned in a bit. Your new agent assures you everything’s okay when you know it’s somehow not. You’re lost in the dark wondering when the next interview or book signing or whatever will be. And no one is returning your calls.

Surprise! You’re expendable.

Because the unspoken deal behind the smiles and three-martini lunches at restaurants with table cloths and violins (no, scratch the violins … too distracting) the Major will shower you with is that the numbers you have as an incredibly successful self-pub are the numbers you have to bring as a non-self-pub … and then some. If even a small percentage of your readers leave — which inevitably happens when a series ends or they outgrow the genre and move on to other things or the phenom hits its peak and then ebbs or, although your readers love you, they don’t love you enough to splash out $9.99 for something they used to buy for $2.99 or .99 — your numbers suffer.

And where will the smiles and tablecloths and violins (changed my mind, they’re back in) be then?

But there is a way around this.

A very successful self-pub whose name escapes me (apologies) just signed with a Major. For physical books. Only. He keeps the ebook rights and profits, they work the physical book angle and he gets the standard 15 – 20% or whatever.

Smart, yeah?

So, if a Major were to ever wine and dine me — and, let’s face it, the chances of my getting a gilded invitation to sup at Fancy Pants Restaurant are pretty darn slim — , that’s the kind of deal I’d make. And if they balked and hemmed and hawed, I’d walk away. A bad deal will never magically become a good deal. Best not to agree to it and then fan the flames by legalizing it with my Jonathan Winn.

I’d just go back to doing what I was doing well in the first place.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s pretty damn awesome being self-pubbed.

It’s about time the Majors realized that.